Highly Recommended
4 stars
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Overall Grade
4 stars

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The Movie Itself
4.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
3.5 Stars
4.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

The Killing

Street Date:
August 16th, 2011
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
August 31st, 2011
Movie Release Year:
85 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

What has impressed me most about the Criterion Collection over the years is how the company strives to do more than just provide viewers with copies of films. They endeavor to honor the art and craft of filmmaking by offering features that showcase the work and the people responsible for it. Some releases are so comprehensive they come across as miniature independent study courses. Stanley Kubrick's 'The Killing', his third feature as a director, is indicative of Criterion's thoroughness, because the inclusion of his second feature 'Killer's Kiss' allows viewers to see his growth and maturation as an artist.

'The Killing' was the first in a trio of films where Kubrick worked with producer James B. Harris. Their partnership also produced 'Paths of Glory' and 'Lolita' with Kubrick stepping away in between to direct 'Spartacus' at Kirk Douglas' request after original director Anthony Mann was fired after the first week of shooting. 'The Killing' is an adaptation of Lionel White's crime novel "Clean Break" with Kubrick and author Jim Thompson working on the script, though Thompson is given the odd credit of "Additional Dialogue By".

The film introduces a number of guys down on their luck in Los Angeles. Randy (Ted de Corsia) is a cop who owes money to a loan shark. George (Elisha Cook Jr.) is a racetrack cashier and a henpecked husband whose bored wife Sherry (Marie Windor) nags at him, but she's not completely bored as she's seeing Val (Vince Edwards) on the side, a guy who only has time for her when he has time for her. Mike (Joe Sawyer) is a bartender at the track and has to deal with a sick wife.

The ringleader of the operation is Johnny (Sterling Hayden). He's been in jail the past five years, but he has a plan to rob the racetrack and start a new life with his girl Fay (Coleen Gray). It also requires he hire a couple of guys to help create diversions. Nikki (Timothy Carey, doing what appears to be a Kirk Douglas imitation from the way he clenches his jaw) is a sharpshooter stationed outside the track and Maurice (wrestler Kola Kwariani) is muscle who takes a seat at the track bar.

Johnny's plan was well constructed and ran like clockwork. In fact it was so precise, Kubrick stops using a linear narrative once it's in motion and jumps around in time as he follows the different members of the team individually during their assignments. Unfortunately for the men, as often happens, pride leads to the fall. There are three instances where the wrong choice is made and almost everyone suffers for it.

'The Killing' also runs like Swiss watch because of Kubrick's planning. The script is well paced. Not a scene feels like filler and the characters, though familiar to film noir, were believable as were the choices they made. The cast is made up of great character actors. It's a very entertaining piece of '50s film noir.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

'The Killing' (#575 in The Criterion Collection) is a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a clear keepcase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Included is 20-page illustrated booklet containing Haden Guest's essay "Kubrick's Clockwork" and a short interview with Marie Windsor for the fall 1992 issue of "The Perfect Vision".

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.66:1. The liner notes state a "new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution from the original 35 mm camera negative."

Except for the print damage seen in race track footage during the opening title sequence, which may have been stock footage, the image looked clean throughout. This is due in part to restoration work done using MTI's DRS system, Pixel Farm's PFClean system, and Digital Vision's DVNR system. Blacks are inky and don't crush. Very good variation can be seen across the gray scale, leading to strong contrast and great shadow delineation. Fine textures can be seen, from details in faces, clothing, and even wrinkles on a cigarette. The film also exhibits good depth throughout.

Only a couple of minor negatives to report. A slight bit of aliasing is noticeable on George's jacket while he awaits Johnny's arrival with the loot. Some of the light sources within a scene are bright and cause banding.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The audio is available in English LPCM 1.0 and was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35 mm soundtrack print. The use of Pro Tools HD and AudioCube's integrated workstation has created a track that shows little signs of wear over time.

The mono track offers limited dynamics. Dialogue is clear and understandable, except Maurice on occasion but that's due to his Eastern European accent. A jazz score can be heard running underneath. Effects are probably the weakest element as their phoniness becomes evident on occasion like the talking parrot's voice or a gunshot that is pitched way to high. But they aren't all bad as planes can be heard flying overhead during the airport scene. The LFE doesn’t get much use.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

  • Killer's Kiss (HD, 67 min) –
    Turns out this disc offers a Kubrick double feature. His second film has the feel of a director starting out with no signs of the legend he would become. The story is rather simple and the characters are more archetypes than believable people. A boxer and a taxi dancer fall for each other and look to escape New York, but she's involved with a gangster. Not a must see, but not a waste of time.
  • James B. Harris (HD, 22 min) –
    Interviewed in 2010, Harris talks about working together with Kubrick. Fans will appreciate the insight.
  • Sterling Hayden (1080i, 24 min) –
    Two excerpts of interviews with Hayden at his home in San Francisco that appeared on the French television program 'Cinema cinemas' on April 1 and July 3, 1984. In the first, he talks about his days in Hollywood. In the second, he talks about his regret, which comes across as sincere, over in his involvement with the HUAC and working with Kubrick.
  • Polito on Thompson (HD, 19 min) –
    Author Robert Polito (Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson) speaks about an integral component in the success of 'The Killing', crime novelist Jim Thompson. Polito covers Thompson's working relationship with Kubrick and with Hollywood on other projects.
  • Geoffrey O'Brien (HD, 10 min) –
    'Killer's Kiss' gets its own featurette critic Geoffrey O'Brien sings the film's praises.
  • Trailers
    Trailers for 'The Killing (HD, 2 min) and Killer's Kiss (1080i, 2 min)are available.
  • HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

    There are no HD exclusives.

    Final Thoughts

    Considering the hit or miss way MGM has been handling their catalog titles, Kubrick fans should rejoice that the Criterion Collection was able to license 'The Killing' and create such a fantastic release. It's a thrilling crime movie that has benefited from the digital restoration it received. The inclusion of 'Killer's Kiss' makes it a must-own for Kubrick fans.

    Technical Specs

    • BD-50 Blu-ray Disc

    Video Resolution/Codec

    • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

    Aspect Ratio(s)

    • 1.66:1

    Audio Formats

    • English PCM Mono


    • English SDH


    • New video interview with producer James B. Harris
    • Excerpts of interviews with actor Sterling Hayden from the French television series Cinéma cinemas
    • New video interview with film scholar Robert Polito about writer Jim Thompson and his work on The Killing
    • Restored transfer of Stanley Kubrick's 1955 noir feature Killer's Kiss
    • New video appreciation of Killer's Kiss with film critic Geoffrey O'Brien
    • Theatrical trailers
    • A booklet featuring an essay by film historian Haden Guest and a reprinted interview with Marie Windsor on The Killing

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